The 44s: AFL’s exclusive club

6 July 2012

Written by: Justine Costigan

This weekend, Stephen Milne, aka Milney, the Tip Rat or Yapper, reaches yet another milestone: 250 games.  Having long ago sewn up the title of the AFL player we love to hate, this season he became only the 4th Saint and the 50th player in Aussie rules history to score 500 goals, and only the 3rd small forward to do it, after Kevin Bartlett and Peter Daicos.  That Milne  is mentioned in their company says something about his ability and longevity in one of the most difficult positions in the game.

Milne also shares membership of another exclusive AFL club, the 44’s.  High guernsey numbers, greatness and longevity rarely go together in football.  Many of the games legends – Matthews, Whitten, Lockett, Voss, Hird, Buckley, Ablett, Stewart, Farmer, Judd, Baldock and so on – made their names in single figures.  While some including Barassi, Daicos, Harvey, Koutoufides, Kirk, Walls and Ling have made their high numbers famous, they are the exception to the rule.

It is often seen as a privilege to ‘move down’ as it were, a sign a player has made it.  Following the Saints near perfect 2009 season, Zac Dawson moved from 43 to 6 and Clint Jones from 39 to the coveted 4.  The St Kilda ‘29’ is an interesting guernsey for number nerds with Nathan Burke, Andrew Thompson and then Aussie Jones all moving from it, to 3, 4 and 5 respectively.  For whatever reason, Milney has stuck with 44, making him part of another select group of players.

The Famous 44s

Justin ‘Harry’ Madden

Essendon 1980-82, 45 games

Carlton 1983-96, 287 games

After overcoming being shot in the chin as a child, ‘Harry’ began his career at Essendon, although was overshadowed by his brother Simon, no mean feat when you are 206cm.  Moving to Carlton, Madden finished second, by one vote, behind Brad Hardie in the 1985 Brownlow Medal count.  Despite his rivalry with James Manson for the title of most ungainly player in the AFL, Madden went on to become of the greats of Carlton’s 1987 and 1995 premiership teams.

Richard Osborne

Fitzroy 1982-92, 187 games

Sydney 1993, 16 games

Footscray 1994-96, 51 games

Collingwood 1997-98, 29 games

While he ended up playing at four different clubs, often the mark of unfulfilled potential, Richard Osborne was an excellent player, kicking 574 goals, representing Victoria on seven occasions, topping his clubs goal kicking five times and most importantly taking the pride of the number 44 guernsey with him to each club.  Osborne was the victim of a couple of gruesome injuries in his time: a sickening knee injury  and a head clash at the SCG where he had to leave the ground in an ambulance.  Amazingly he was back playing three weeks later, albeit in a helmet.

John Platten

Hawthorn 1986-97, 258 games

The other breed of ‘Rat’ to wear the 44, Platten’s signature was won by the Hawks after a battle with the Blues.  They were repaid almost immediately with Platten sharing the 1987 Brownlow Medal with legendary Saint Tony Lockett.  Over ten years and 250 games later, Platten returned to South Australia regarded as one of the finest rovers of his era and a four time premiership player, a five time all Australian, a state representative on 17 occasions and still with one of the worst hairstyles ever seen on a football field.

 Nigel Lappin

Brisbane Bears / Lions 1994-2008, 279 games

A member of Brisbane’s ‘Fab Four’, along with captain Michael Voss, Simon Black and Jason Akermanis, they dominated the competition in the early noughties.  Lappin played in all three of the Lions flags and earned all Australian selection from 2001 – 2004.  Other individual awards included Victorian selection in 1996, 1997 and 1999, club captain in 2007 and Australian Asthma Sportsman of the Year 1998.

Corey Enright

Geelong 2001- present, 227* games

Underrated, quiet achiever and ever reliable are common terms used when discussing Cats defender Corey Enright.  In his first season at Kardinia Park Enright was named best first year player.  A decade later he is a triple premiership player, four time all Australian and best and fairest winner in a premiership year, an honour he shares with former team mate Gary Ablett Jnr and VFL/AFL legends Leigh Matthews, Kevin Bartlett, Jason Dunstall, Simon Black and Michael Voss.  Despite the accolades Enright is still not immune to the wrath of the football gods.

David Wirrpanda

West Coast 1996-2009, 227 games

The only indigenous player thus far to make the number 44 famous, Wirrpanda debuted at age 16 for the Eagles, their youngest ever.  After years of inconsistency Wirrpanda finally hit his straps and earned all Australian selection in the 2005 season, in the next he played in the Eagles’ third premiership.  Since retiring in 2009 Wirrpanda has gone on to fatherhood, dancing with the stars and now immortalised in song.

Andrew Carrazzo

Carlton, 2004 – present, 144* games

While not yet in the bracket of the aforementioned, ‘Carrotts’ has been a consistent contributor for the Blues.  A life long Carlton supporter, Carrazzo was initially drafted by Geelong, however could not crack the senior team in 2002 and 2003.  In 2007 he won the Blues’ best & fairest and this year became father to triplets – Grace, Charlotte and Sophia.

Peter Caven

Fitzroy, 1991-1993, 39 games

Sydney, 1994-1995, 18 games

Adelaide, 1996-2000, 82 games

Caven did not always wear the number 44, although he did play the bulk of his 139 games in it.  As centre half back for the Adelaide Crows, Caven won two flags in 1997 and 98, although he is best remembered for fainting at the SCG in 1994.

Congratulations to Stephen Milne on his 250th game. Watch some of the highlights of the Tip Rat from the past ten and a bit years below, including his 11 straight goals against the Brisbane Lions in 2005.

Stuart O’Brien is a contributor to the Bertelsmann Future Challenges and Intentious websites and writes a blog. Follow him on twitter: @stublogs